Exploring the East Bay’s Regional Parks

By Marta Yamamoto
Tuesday August 21, 2007

Welcome to the East Bay. You’re just in time for some of the area’s best weather – warm days, long shadows and gentle breezes. They make up the perfect combination to get outdoors, explore and develop a relationship with nature. 

The East Bay Regional Park District is an amazing resource, one that offers over 97,000-acres encompassing 65 regional parks, recreation areas, wilderness, shorelines and preserves and 1150-miles of hiking trails. Within is habitat for a wealth of wildlife, 235 family campsites and 2,082 picnic tables. Add to that, 11 freshwater lakes for water sports and nine interpretive centers.  

Several parks are close enough for a morning or afternoon escape, less than 30 minutes from Berkeley. Hike the classic landscape of the East Bay hills, search out evidence of our volcanic past and a verdant canyon unchanged for millions of years, stroll north on coastal prairie and enjoy San Francisco vistas along with man’s best friend. All you need is time to enjoy our great outdoors and, in some cases, the cost of the parking fee. 

Briones Regional Park is a secret wilderness nestled in the hills north of Lafayette, a discovery you’ll want to repeat. Cows can often be seen grazing the rolling hillsides in this 6,000-acre spread of oak forests, shaded canyons, hidden lagoons and impressive views, once part of Rancho San Felipe. 

A number of hikes originate from the Bear Creek Staging Area and there are also well-shaded picnic facilities there. One loop, the Abrigo Valley-Mott Peak-Crest-Old Briones Road, takes you past a diversity of environments, and is a good introduction to the park. You’ll walk through a cool canyon beneath mature bays and oaks, past meadows and tuck-and-roll hillsides of native grasses, up a steep climb to Mott Peak where vistas spread out for miles and to lagoons ringed with reeds. 

Briones’ summer climate is hot, so an early morning start will keep you cool as well as increase your chances of viewing resident wildlife. 

Bear Creek Staging Area: on Bear Creek Road, off of San Pablo Dam Road. Parking fee is $5/car, $2/dog. 


Closer to home, in the East Bay Hills, are two parks less than 1 mile apart, Sibley Volcanic and Huckleberry Botanic, connected by Skyline Trail. 

Once home to volcanoes, Sibley is one of the Park District’s original properties, dedicated in 1936. The open-pavilion Visitor Center is a good place for an introduction to the park’s diverse plant communities and its tumultuous past, the survival of a land in transition. Here you can also pick up the self-guided tour of Round Top loop where numbered signposts match brochure descriptions. 

On this loop you’ll see the interior of Round Top volcano and layers of tuff-breccias at a former quarry pit. Other signposts point out redbeds, red streaks and layers of oxidized iron and good fossil sources, and massive sandstone blocks left over from the Age of Dinosaurs. 

Though rich in geologic history, Sibley’s abundant flora keeps plant-lovers happy. Through grassland, brushland, mixed broadleaf woodland and conifer forest, coast live oak, bay laurel, madrone, buckeye, coyote bush and wild current thrive and provide habitat for a variety of wildlife. 

Sibley Volcanic: 6800 Skyline Blvd, Oakland. No parking fee, dogs allowed.  


At Huckleberry the collection of California natives, on 240-acres of ocean floor strata laid down 12 million years ago, are reminders of a cooler, moister climate. This is a landscape that can’t be seen anywhere else in the East Bay. A year-round display of blooming plants among coast huckleberry, ceanothus, chinquapin, bay forests and chaparral thickets makes every season a lure.  

Huckleberry Path, a 1.7-mile loop along a self-guided nature trail, traverses a wide range of landscapes as it leads you up and down the canyon along steep undulations. The nature trail brochure, available at the trailhead, points out unique vegetation while providing lessons on ecological succession and competition for resources. Though nearby, the experience will take you far away. 

Huckleberry Botanic: on Skyline Blvd. between Broadway Terrace and Snake Road, Oakland, no parking fee and no dogs allowed. 


Point Pinole Regional Shoreline offers the best of all outdoor worlds – sparkling bay views and accessible shoreline, gently undulant meadows and lush marshes, rich birdlife, eucalyptus groves and shaded picnic grounds. Walking along the 12 miles of mostly flat trails, it’s hard to imagine the explosive past of this quiet retreat. 

Between 1880 and 1960 four explosive companies manufactured over two billion pounds of dynamite here. Forty years later, Giant Powder Co. created its own town. Today, only their footsteps remain in oddly shaped foundations, sunken bunkers, raised earth berms, wood pilings and partially visible railroad ties. 

The Bay View Trail is a gentle loop taking you through most of the park’s habitats with strategically placed benches and beach access trails along the way. A public fishing pier extends 200 feet over the bay and is often crowded with anglers hoping for a catch of sturgeon or perch. 

Point Pinole: 5551 Giant Highway, Richmond. Parking fee is $5/vehicle, $2/dog.  


When your four-legged best friend wants an outing, the place to go is Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, the largest public off-leash park in the U.S. Here you can ogle views of the Golden Gate Bridge and bird watch while Fido makes friends.  

Though small at 21 acres, the 1.7-mile trail takes you along the waterfront and past grassy fields. There are lots of mud-flat and bay- access points for dogs that enjoy wallowing and swimming. It’s a great place to people and dog-watch and enjoy brisk breezes off the water. 

The Sit & Stay Café, a rewarding treat for masters, and Mudpuppy Tub & Scrub, a treat for both of you, are within the park grounds. 

Point Isabel: at the west end of Central Ave, Richmond. No parking or dog fees. 


The East Bay Regional Parks District has an excellent website where you can get specific directions to each park, hours of operation and a list of scheduled activities, including naturalist-lead hikes. Go to www.ebparks.org/parks or call 562-PARK.